28 Comments

  1. If memory serves me right, William Shatner hosted a fire/first responder show. At the beginning it was called RESCUE Nine-eleven (911). They had to change it to RESCUE Nine-One-One because on the no eleven button confusing watchers. This was early in the use of 911.

  2. Well I for one definitely used to hear “nine eleven” a whole lot! And the absence of the eleven key was a standard riposte.

    But it is a little off balance that her dialog shows it as 9-1-1, presumably said “nine one one”, which ought to rule out the eleven gag.

  3. I heard this as an urban legend/joke. “The public service announcements stopped referring to 911 as ‘nine-eleven’ because people couldn’t find the eleven button.” I’ve heard of nine-eleven back in 1985 or so but not since. I heard some people claim some people referred to Sept. 11th as 9-1-1 which made no sense and I never actually heard it. There may have been an surge of refering to 9-1-1 as 9-11 after 9/11 but it wasn’t significant, I think.

    Anyway, this is a pretty old, stale, and obvious joke.

  4. I really wonder whether anybody ever actually looked for “eleven” on a phone dial other than in comic strips.

    People weren’t idiots: phone numbers were often related with phrases such as “eleven” or “twenty-three” or “ten” (also not on the dial) and everybody knew what it meant because they knew what phone dials looked like.

  5. Reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke where he wants a candy bar from a vending machine that’s listed under HH. He pushes H twice and gets “f****in potato chips”.

  6. I haven’t looked this up, but I think the logic of the number was to make it as fast to dial as possible, where you were actually dialing, with some constraint on the phone system making it impossible to start with a 1, because that would signal long distance, and not emergency. So you have to dial the long 9, wait for it to roll back, but then you can dial two quick 1s. I always wondered about the British 999: someone is dying, and you have to sit there and dial a nine, wait for it roll all the way back, dial another nine, wait for that to roll all the way back, then dial yet a third nine… Most of Europe has 112, to avoid that English insanity…

  7. @lark: That certainly makes sense. That’s why New York was 212, Chicago is 312, and LA 213 originally: to make them as fast to dial as possible, since they were the most populous area codes at the time.

    NANP (North American Numbering Plan) is cool stuff. Those folks thought a LOT about it in advance, and mostly got it right.

  8. Reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke where he wants a candy bar from a vending machine that’s listed under HH. He pushes H twice and gets “f****in potato chips”.

    I actually did that once. In this case it was numbers. The selection I wanted was like “12”, so I reflexively pushed “1” to start entering “1, 2”. I received something I didn’t want.

  9. “People weren’t idiots: phone numbers were often related with phrases such as “eleven” or “twenty-three” or “ten” (also not on the dial) and everybody knew what it meant because they knew what phone dials looked like.”

    Not idiots, no… but some of them are small children. And it’s the small children, and the idiots, too, I suppose, that we want to help without requiring them to know the number of the local fire department.

  10. @billybob My first memory of ever trying to use a telephone (I was probably about 4 or 5 years old), I couldn’t find the dash key to press after the first 3 numbers, and it would time out (or whatever you called it back then when you took too long to dial a number). I don’t remember who I was trying to call.
    My mom or somebody informed me that you don’t have to dial the dash. I didn’t understand why there was a dash in the phone number if you didn’t have to dial it. This was a pushbutton phone, but we did have a rotary in the house as well.

  11. The missing 11 key on the phone dial has about the same comedy potential as the “any” key on a computer keyboard. Not much, and what there was has long since been used up.

  12. You do make a very valid point, Arthur.

    Allow me, then, to amend my comment to “‘People are idiots'” does in itself constitute humor”

  13. “I really wonder whether anybody ever actually looked for “eleven” on a phone dial other than in comic strips.”

    I don’t wonder. It’s probably not at all true. It was a joke/urban legend. Everyone likes to believe it but it obviously isn’t true.

    Google being the fifth most google term isn’t so awful. Consider most people’s browser are defaulted that if you types terms in the address bar that are not urls it does a google search. So they aren’t searching to get to google *from* google. They are searching to get to google from other sites. Why don’t the just save a step and search the terms directly in the address bar?… well, okay, they aren’t smart but they aren’t really idiots either.

  14. This resonates for me this week as I just heard an ad on SiriusXM for a quick loan website, “seventy-nine-cash-dot-com”. During the radio ad, they never clarified whether it was 79cash.com or seventyninecash.com or 79cashdot.com. No clue where the 79 button is on my keyboard

  15. ” According to this site, the #5 most-searched term on Google is google.”
    ” Consider most people’s browser are defaulted that if you types terms in the address bar that are not urls it does a google search.”

    I would guess that this statistic is largely caused by people having the Google page (or something that’s linked to it) and they mistakenly type “www.google.com” into the search term instead of into the address bar. It’s easy to do, and as the negative feedback for doing so is nil, easy to KEEP doing.

  16. Heh…I recently saw part of the ’80s film “War Games” on TV and saw the lead kid using a payphone…with a rotary dial (in a fully-enclosed booth no less.) I was trying to remember when I last used a rotary payphone.

  17. In Ben Fountain’s brilliant “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” he writes 911 dialogue as “Nina Leven.” Great book. Buy it.

  18. CIDU has become so much a part of my mind that when I read a book, I make note of all the things in it that remind me of CIDU comments. The record so far is three in one book (DEATH on the cover and two others I can’t remember right at this moment).

    I’m currently reading an author’s complete series; in her 1994 book, she wrote 911; in her 2004 book, she wrote nine one one.

  19. ” I was trying to remember when I last used a rotary payphone.”

    In the 1980’s I was assigned to a base in Colorado (where the one in the film was supposed to be, if I remember correctly). On the military base, they were just finishing up replacing all the rotary payphones with touchtones, so we servicemen could use calling-cards to make long-distance calls instead of a pocketfull of change. The other thing I remember about those phones was that a local call cost 20 cents, not a quarter.

  20. I never really heard it as 9-eleven, but as 9-1-1 even in the earlier days. Similarly I have never heard anyone say the area code for NYC as 2-twelve or 2 hundred twelve, but always as 2-1-2 and the same with other area codes.

    The problem with saying combination numbers (such as twelve) is that sometimes people mishear – for example if one says thirty-thirty (for 3030) it can be misheard as thirteen- thirteen – I know I used to have a number at work which ended in same.

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